Honourable Mike Gaffney MLC

Legislative Council

Member for Mersey


Canal Estates (Prohibition) Bill 2011

Hon. Mike Gaffney MLC

Hon. Mike Gaffney MLC

Member for Mersey

Madam President, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate.  The Canal Estates (Prohibition) Bill has certainly generated considerable public interest in my office and no doubt electorate offices around the State have been kept busy responding to phone calls, e-mails and written correspondence from constituents, activists and other interested stakeholders.  While concurring with every viewpoint is quite literally an impossibility, and no doubt the conclusions that I have reached will disappoint some, I believe that receiving and generally considering a range of information, evidence and opinions is very important to the decision-making process.  I would like to place on record my appreciation to those who took the time to contact me with regard to this bill.

In September 2009 the statutory assessment and determination functions of the former Resource Planning and Development Commission and the strategic policy and advice functions of the Land Use Planning Branch of the Department of Justice were assumed by the new independent statutory body of the Tasmanian Planning Commission.  As a principal body within the Tasmanian Resource Management and Planning System, the TPC provides advice to the Minister for Planning and Local Government, makes recommendations concerning projects of State significance and drafts State policies for the Premier, the Honourable Lara Giddings MP.

It is important to note that the TPC activities fall under the auspices of a number of significant pieces of State legislation including the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993, the State Policies and Projects Act 1993, Public Land (Administration and Forests Act) 1991, the National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002, and the Water Management Act 1999.  Furthermore, the depth of experience and knowledge required of the positions held by its executive commissioner and several part-time commissioners ensure that the extensive framework, protocols and procedures are well supported and regularly reviewed.

There is little doubt that independent authorities such as the TPC or Ombudsman's offices will rarely be able to provide resolutions, which suit opposing parties.  The community should have faith that these authorities have in place extensively researched protocols and stringent assessment processes in order to reach appropriate conclusions based upon the boundaries set by that existing legislation.  As such, my first objection to this bill is based upon the premise that it undermines the efficacy and credibility of the Tasmanian Planning Commission.

If we seek to implement this bill we are effectively saying that the TPC does not provide sound or fair judgments based on the relevant documentations in the best interests of the Tasmanian people.  I do not believe, based upon my research into the TPC and the history of decisions handed down thus far that the organisation's capacity to perform its role is or should be in question.  Were  we, as legislators concerned with the Tasmanian Planning Commission, needing further guiding legislation to undertake the functions previously outlined, it would be more appropriate for us to be contemplating a bill or bills which would remedy any issues identified with the actual assessment process and not to cherrypick one type of development and simply remove the rights of the developer to propose their idea and thus the right of the TPC to consider it.

I am quietly confident that honourable members who have personally investigated the wide implications of passing this bill will not have been influenced by the possibility that to vote against it might be perceived as an anti-environmental stance.  I am very aware that all members in this place are keenly supportive of the beauty and importance of the Tasmanian environment and its landscape.

In June 2010, the TPC rejected the proposed Lauderdale quay canal housing development.  It accepted that for that development at that time in that area the Tasmanian Planning Commission made the right decision.  The Ralphs Bay ruling was a win for the environment and for all Tasmanians.  Despite extensive financial outlay from the opponents of the development, the developer and other stakeholders, the TPC did not deviate from its duty to provide an informed, rational decision, which was reflective of the State's environmental and planning legislation which was in the best interests of current and future generations.

There is no evidence to suggest that the TPC would or would not approve further canal developments but they must be given the right to review these proposals.  I accept that there is a significant cost to the developer when preparing their cases for the TPC, but I believe this rigorous assessment is the right process.  The Canal Estates (Prohibition) Bill is, quite frankly, not necessary.  I believe there are appropriate protocols in place that render this legislation repetitious, heavy-handed and potentially discriminatory to the developers.  It is, to coin a well-used phrase, a blanket ban and I do not believe that blanket bans have a place in an educated, dynamic and evolving society.  Rather, a ban should only be legislated where there is clear scientific and objective evidence to show that in every circumstance and in every condition the outcome would be extremely disagreeable or unacceptable against a set of established objectives.  Whilst that evidence was apparent in the Ralphs Bay proposal, it is not to say that it would have been the same result for every potential proposal.

Indeed, a ban may be considered lazy policy and not supported by evidence.  It removes the need to conduct investigation where the subject activity may or may not be suitable and for setting assessment outcomes and criteria to allow consideration of a proposal.  It may also be considered lazy politics in that a ban removes the need for an assessment process and the associated controversy that may arise.  It is often difficult to successfully achieve or get agreement on canal development.  The candidate locations are commonly important for biodiversity and ecological process, are all in soft shorelines, vulnerable to coastal erosion and inundation.  Arrangements for effluent disposal are challenging, water quality within the canal can become poor and visual and public access to the immediate shoreline is often excluded.  However, all these factors do not make canal development inherently bad.  There may be occasions where it can succeed with only positive consequence for environment, human beings and the growth and development of settlement.

Across the globe there are examples of incredible feats in engineering and architecture, bridges and roads, dams and breakwaters, reclaimed land, lighthouses, skyscrapers, aqueducts, elevated forest walks and the list goes on and on.  Some of these projects have had a positive impact on our environment, and on our capacity to actively enjoy and in some cases preserve it.  Others have been less favourable.  Our current day engineers, planners, scientists, architects, environmentalists, sociologists, demographers and other learned professions are not in the business of attempting to ruin our environment.

These learned people use and advance existing technology in order to generate the most positive outcomes in their work.  They, perhaps to a greater degree than the rest of the population, are more aware than ever before of the importance of considering the environment as an integral factor in their deliberations.

I believe that we should be encouraging their work, allowing them to problem solve identified issues and support innovation.  I think it is fair to say that blanket banning quashes this creative spirit and, as stated earlier, undermines the confidence we would have or should have in these people.

Indeed, it is hoped that the future generations of lateral and innovative thinkers are able to approach problems and issues in a way to sustain and improve our environment.  While once again reiterating my support for the Ralphs Bay decision I do not believe that banning the proposition of canal estate developments in Tasmania is appropriate nor is it necessary given the existing legislation and the extensive powers of the TPC.  I will not be supporting this bill.